Delay in Asia-Pacific aviation recovery due to govt restrictions especially in China and Japan, says IATA

Willie Walsh

Willie Walsh

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KUALA LUMPUR (May 17): The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said the delay in the aviation recovery in the Asia-Pacific region is because of governments' Covid-19 travel restrictions.

The IATA also specified that the main gaps are China's zero-Covid approach and Japan's still unclear plan on the reopening of its borders.

In a statement on Tuesday (May 17), IATA said the Asia-Pacific region's international passenger traffic largely hovered at below 10% for the past two years and stated that the demand in March merely reached 17% of pre-Covid-19 levels.

"This is far below the global trend where markets have recovered to 60% of pre-crisis levels. The lag is because of government restrictions," IATA's director general Willie Walsh said.

"The sooner they (Covid-19 restrictions) are lifted, the sooner we will see a recovery in the region's travel and tourism sector, and all the economic benefits that [it] will bring."

He added that the two big gaps in the Asia-Pacific aviation recovery are with China and Japan.

"So long as the Chinese government continues to maintain their zero-Covid approach, it is hard to see the country's borders reopening. This will hold back the region's full recovery.

"While Japan has taken steps to allow travel, there is no clear plan for the reopening of Japan for all inbound visitors or tourists. More needs to be done to further ease travel restrictions, starting with lifting quarantine for all vaccinated travellers, and removing both the on-arrival airport testing and daily arrival cap," said Walsh.

He stated that the growing momentum in travel demand is clearly displayed by the people after governments lifted many travel restrictions.

"As soon as measures are relaxed, there is an immediate positive reaction from travellers. So it is critical that all stakeholders, including governments, are well prepared for the restart. We cannot delay. Jobs are at stake and people want to travel," said Walsh.

He suggested Asia-Pacific governments to continue easing measures by removing all restrictions for vaccinated travellers and removing quarantine and Covid-19 testing for unvaccinated travellers in most parts of Asia where there are high levels of population immunity.

He also urged for the lifting of the mask mandate for air travel when it is no longer required in other indoor environments and public transport.

"Supporting and more importantly accelerating the recovery will need a whole of industry and government approach. Airlines are bringing back the flights.

"Airports need to be able to handle the demand, and governments need to be able to process security clearances and other documentation for key personnel efficiently," said Walsh.

The IATA represents about 290 airlines comprising 83% of global air traffic.

In the same statement, Walsh also took the opportunity to call on Asia-Pacific governments to support the industry's sustainability efforts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

He said among the most important things that governments should do is incentivising the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).

"Airlines have bought every drop of SAF that is available. Projects are underway that will see a rapid increase in SAF production over the next [few] years.

"We see SAF contributing to 65% of the mitigation needed to achieve net zero in 2050. That will require governments to be much more proactive," said Walsh.

He added that there have been positive developments in Asia-Pacific towards the sustainability goal such as with Japan having committed considerable funds for green aviation initiatives, as well as New Zealand and Singapore agreeing to cooperate on green flights.

Esther Lee